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Historical Overview.

St. Peter's Congregation and Church of Tartu.

St.Peter's congregation of Tartu was established on 27 October 1869 (according to the old calendar) through separation from the Maarja Parish congregation and its members were Estonians living in the town of Tartu.

The cornerstone of St. Peter's Church was laid on 31 May 1883 and the building was consecrated for services on 16 September 1884 (both according to the old calendar). Until then, services had been held in Jaani Church. The church is an example of the pseudo-Gothic style prevalent at the time (architect Viktor Schröter, building master Gustav Beermann).

The cathedral, which was established next to the site of the 1st Estonian Song Festival, is a stylish brick building. The church has 5 spires (4 corner spires and the 56.6 m high main spire) which were completed in 1903, two-storey side balconies, 1,500 seats, Prof. J. Köler’s altar painting Inviting Christ (1890), a concert organ with 23 registers (master Müllverstedt, 1891, last major repairs in 2001), spire bell-clock (1904) and central heating (1987).

The pastor’s house of the I and II sub-congregation (destroyed in the war in 1944) and communion and school houses (arch. G. Hellat 1910, after the war rebuilt into an industrial building, returned to the congregation in 1996) also belonged to the church.

Throughout time, the congregation has been devoted to nurturing and maintaining the Estonian spirit. In the foreign-language town milieu it was the first place where young people were educated in the Estonian language. During the Soviet times, the church was a haven of support for school students who participated in protest demonstrations at their meetings by the grave of J. Kuperjanov, hero of the War for Freedom, on religious and national holidays.

In 1912, the congregation had 22,378 members, but during the first spell of independence the number reached 27,000 (approx. one-half of the town’s population at the time). After the loss of lives in the war and after the end of the war, the number of members decreased gradually, but dropped drastically after the application of Soviet pressure measures.

As a result of the atheist pressure politics that began during N. Khrushchev’s time and were developed during L. Brezhnev’s time, the congregation only had 483 donating members in 1985.

The national reawakening in 1988-1991 created a spontaneous rush to the church. There were 549 baptisms, 495 communions and 128 weddings in 1990. The number of donating members was 1380 (1992).


Sunday school, regular communion courses, a chamber choir in addition to the mixed choir, a Bible circle and welfare services started their work at that time. The tradition of church concerts was brought back to life. The church started to organise special purpose services for schools and other institutions and Bible story dramatisation and organ music festivals. The people of the city have valued the church as a bearer of unchangeable identity who can be trusted.

When the Maarja congregation was liquidated in 1948, its members joined St.Peter's congregation as a separate Maarja sub-congregation. In 1997, after the rights of the congregation were restored, it moved to its returned communion house at Õpetaja 5.

In the beginning of the 1990s, the church was also used by the Tartu Finnish congregation.

The congregation has been the intermediary of extensive foreign aid. It has developed stable friendships with the St. Michaelis congregation in Lüneburg and the church parish over there and also the Gottsunda congregation in Uppsala. These friendships have yielded support to economic life, youth and musical work and renovation of the organ. The arched windows on the 3rd floor were thoroughly renovated in the beginning of the 1990s with funds provided by former congregation member Erica Bockfeldt, an Estonian living in Canada.

The assistance received from the City Government is remarkable: renovation of the fa?ade in the end of the 1980s, changing the entire electricity system in 2000, participation in the renovation of the organ (exceeded 1/3 of the general cost), supporting the change of the heating centre in the extent of 50%, support to cultural programs, etc.

Renovation of the organ became possible mostly thanks to the aid fund headed by Provost Emeritus Toomas Põld from Bielefeld, Germany.

Clergymen who have served the congregation

- Wilhelm Gottfried Eisenschmidt (served in 1869-1922), 1st sub-congregation;

- Arnold Laur (1912-1922), 2nd sub-congregation;

- Provost Julius Rutopõld (1923-1936), 1st sub-congregation;

- Jaan Treumann (1923-1941), 2nd sub-congregation;

- Dr. Jaak Taul (1936-1944), 1st sub-congregation;

- Jaan Muru, MA (1941-1944), 2nd sub-congregation;

- Provost August Jänni (1942-1981);

- Kalle Mesila (1981- 2010 );


Best-known musicians who have served the congregation.

- B. Stern (1870-1891);

- Karl Lampson (1892-1934);

- Johannes Kärt (Jaak Karis; 1924-1944);

- Leonhard Wirkhaus (1933-1944); First Estonian board member of the congregation during the first years of the congregation

- Dr. Med. Heinrich Koppel (later rector of the University of Tartu)